It wasn’t but just over a week ago when the Bucs season was spinning out of control. Coming off a difficult loss to Chicago and facing a 10-0 deficit against the Packers, they were on their heels against Aaron Rodgers who was throwing it at will all over them and had the ball looking to put their foot on the Bucs’ throat.
But then Aaron Rodgers let the ball go, and from there on, the Bucs outscored the Packers and the Las Vegas Raiders over the next 100+ minutes, 83-20. It started with a Jamel Dean interception return for a touchdown on that Rodgers pass followed by more defensive playmaking and total dominance by Tom Brady, which is probably an understatement. Brady has made throws which we haven’t seen since his prime days in New England when he had Randy Moss and he’s reconnected with his old buddy, Rob Gronkowski, who looks just as good as he’s ever looked.
So after staring 3-3 in the face after that first quarter a week ago, the Bucs are now 5-2 with a Monday night matchup against the lowly New York Giants next week, their eyes set on 6-2 with their biggest game of the season in two weeks against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football.
Then there’s the New England Patriots which are melting down before our very eyes. After their own impressive win against the Raiders to get them to 2-1 with aspirations on yet another AFC East title, COVID-19 hit Cam Newton and others on the team, and since then, their offense has been nothing short of abysmal. They’ve tried Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham, both of who couldn’t muster anything up against Kansas City. Then Cam Newton came back and he looked like the Newton from the last couple years in Carolina. He was so bad Sunday he was benched after piling up an atrocious 13.2 quarterback rating in two games.
The Patriots have scored a total of two touchdowns in three games, both of those coming in the fourth quarter on backdoor scoring drives against prevent defenses to simply make the game closer.
Yesterday, they sat and watched their old quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo take the 49ers down the field on them while also looking up at the scoreboard to see Tom Brady piling up touchdowns against Vegas. Something tells me Bill Bellichick didn’t get much sleep last night.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Tom Brady is winning the side battle that was a storyline in the 2020 season, at least for now. It wasn’t that way just a couple weeks ago when the Bucs were at a low point in the season and injuries were mounting with the receiving corps.
So what has changed in Tampa Bay?
Well, momentum for one. Some may say that interception last week was just another pick for a touchdown, but the season was spiraling the wrong way and you could see frustration mounting on Brady’s face. But the pick six seemed to lift the team’s spirits and from really then on, they’ve looked like the best team in football. Noone can stop them.
Secondly, Chris Godwin is back… and he’s looking good. Godwin missed much of the first five weeks of the season with a hamstring injury along with a concussion, but he’s getting healthy and becoming Tom Brady’s favorite target as evidenced by his seven catch, 94-yard performance on Sunday which included a beautiful touchdown catch. Just wait til Mike Evans’ ankle sprain heals up which has deterred him from making a bigger impact the last few weeks.
There’s also Gronk who is playing like, well, Gronk. The “I’m here to block baby” quote was clearly nothing more than sarcasm as he’s begun to play like a guy “who is here to catch touchdowns, baby.” Anyone can see that once the offense started clicking and Wirfs could start handling things more on his own (which he has), he’d get more involved.
Oh, and in case you didn’t hear the news, Antonio Brown has arrived in Tampa and will be on the field for the team’s big Sunday night game against the New Orleans Saints in two weeks. Brown is only going to add to what is already a loaded wide receiving corps in Tampa. Behavior aside, it’s clear the injuries to the wide receiver’s unit concerned the Bucs front office, as Bruce Arians indicated on Sunday, and Brady pushing for the former Pro Bowl receiver only cemented the deal. (yeah, don’t believe the quotes about Arians saying it was his call, not Brady’s).
I don’t know if Brown will make an impact. After all, the Bucs offense can’t look any better than it has the last couple weeks. What it will add is more problems for linebackers and defensive backs of opposing teams who just can’t cover all these talented wideouts and tight ends. So look for the Bucs to continue to score 30 and 40 points per game.
Another huge difference in the turnaround, though, is the Bucs defense which is not being talked about as much because of what Brady’s been able to do the last two weeks. The defense has opportunistic, holding the Packers and Raiders, two high-profile and flying offenses, to just 20 points in seven quarters. They flustered Rodgers and made plays in critical situations against Derek Carr and Vegas. The one word to describe the defense is “improvement.” They keep getting better, especially in the secondary which was a huge weakness a year ago. Antoine Winfield, Jr. is becoming a rising rookie star and Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting are helping turn what was once a problem in Tampa into a strength. The defensive line and linebacking corps continue to make plays and frustrate offenses.
Back to Brady, though, it’s clear to see why he chose Tampa and didn’t want to stay in New England. The weapons in New England just aren’t there. Julian Edelman has become a ghost without Brady and N’Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd are no Mike Evans or Chris Godwin. Heck, they’re not even Tyler Johnson or Scotty Miller. I don’t even know if they’d make this Buccaneers roster. I couldn’t even tell you who the heck the Patriots tight end is, but he’s definitely not as good as Rob Gronkowski or Cameron Brate.
Brady is getting the upper-hand on Bellichick. Something tells me, though, it’s not Tom Brady that is keeping the future Hall of Fame coach and legend up at night, it’s the guy who was taking snaps against the Patriots on Sunday.
You just wonder how much longer Bellichick can tolerate it before he says it’s time to step aside.